Sunday was a rare gem of a day. It’s May, so typically the temperature is in the mid to upper 80s, but we had recently been graced with MUCH cooler temperatures and a lot of rain. Sunday was sunny, cool, and felt like very early spring. It would have been a shame to waste it by spending the day indoors doing the normal chores that need to be completed before the work week starts.
I was peevish. Laundry is not something I wanted to do. Every time I looked out of the window it made it even worse. The dialog in my head was focused on what I SHOULD do as opposed to what I actually WANTED to do. The problem was coming up with something specific to do. First step - just get out of the house and get some breakfast (chicken biscuit at Goldberg’s Deli - it’s not listed on the menu any more, but thankfully they do still have it - biscuit, scrambled eggs, cheese, crispy fried chicken, gravy - damn tasty breakfast). After completing consumption, Lynn patiently asked again what I wanted to do. His sainthood for calmly dealing with my morning moodiness is out for approval. I considered the amount of rain we had just gotten. Mountains? Waterfalls? Yep - we could do that.
It was a perfect day to get out of the city for a little while. We headed to the mountains where we could combine getting out and enjoying a bit of nature for me and twisty mountain driving for Lynn. I also had in mind to forage some honeysuckle blossoms for steeping in liquor and attempting to make some honeysuckle jelly.
The air was cool, the sky a bright azure, the hikes not very strenuous, the growth still new enough to have that sweet softer green color to it, the splashing water bracing and giving the air a cool mineral scent that I have sometimes with delight found in wine. I have actually used that to describe notes before - ‘tastes like the bottom of a waterfall.’
Honeysuckle was not to be found on the paths we took though - too much canopy cover. That will have to be a prize for a different day. What I did find were a couple of spruce trees with an abundance of tender fluorescent green tips. I made a mental note that on route back to the car a good bit of them would be coming home with us.
While minding my steps over slick ground and exposed roots I started thinking about those spruce tips and how I would use them. Being in the forest in what felt like early spring made me think of ramps. No such luck there, but it’s not as early in the season as it felt. The splashing water we were following made me think of pretty trout. Fishing was not on the agenda for the day, and is never a sure thing in providing a meal anyway. Hmmm. No cell phone signal, or I would have sent a message to my friend who works at the Atlanta Fish Market to see if they had any whole trout for sale. I pushed meal planning to the back of my mind so I could just enjoy the time with my other half, the sound of water on rocks and the quite of the woods (though the sound of motorcycle engines was present enough to make you aware that there were a lot of other people enjoying the mountain).
As the afternoon waned, thoughts of dinner swooped through my brain from time to time - not overbearing or obsessive - just a hint hear and there. Like hearing birds in the background. Potatoes. I wanted potatoes with my trout. Peas. Those would be sweet and green. And there was still the dilemma of the missing ramps. Time to return to traffic and the city. Of course on the way I would saw huge banks of honeysuckle vines on the side of the road (usually in front of people's houses). Nope - wasn't going to do it. Time to go home.
Since a tardy message to my friend about fish was still unanswered and our direction to the house would take us past Buford Highway Farmers Market. Stopping just to see if they happened to have any trout was agreed upon. It would be rude not to, right? Low and behold, there were several rainbows still nestled down in crushed ice that said they wanted to be dinner. Two fishies procured. I wish that I could say that I had pulled them out of the mountain streams we had visited that day, but alas, retail was my only option.
This meal was to be a late homage to spring. I suppose I could use scallions to stand in for the ramps that I wanted to stuff into the cavity of the fish. Sort of. I had tasted some quick pickled ramps in a fermentation class at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival a few years ago. That was kind of what I was looking for - crunchy, tart, with still an allium bite (but not to overwhelming). Ok, don’t cringe. I had a jar of vermouth soaked cocktail onions. Crunchy. Tart. Allium. Yes, I said screw it. I would be using them.
Again, this is not much of a recipe - just putting a very few items together and letting the ingredients be themselves (except for the onions). This is also a really quick meal to make.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
• Two trout (or 1 per person) - skin scored, rubbed generously with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper on both sides
- Into the cavity layer thin slices of lemon, trimmed scallions, and spruce tips (yes, these can be omitted if you haven’t been to the spring time woods)
- Place onto a baking sheet and sit into the refrigerator while working on other items
• Two thin skinned gold potatoes - sliced thinly and fanned out onto a baking sheet that has been rubbed with olive oil
- Drizzle more olive oil on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper
Place potatoes into the oven.
• Over medium to low heat, slowly caramelize a drained jar of vermouth soaked crunchy cocktail onions (mushy ones will not work) in butter.
After the potatoes have been in the oven for 15 minutes, put the pan of fish in the oven. Cook for another 10-15 minutes (depending on how big your trout are - mine were kind of big, so they went for 15).
Pull fish and potatoes out of the oven. Add peas (frozen work just fine) to the onions, add a generous handful of spruce tips, and cook until just hot.
Plate and garnish with a few more spruce tips. Eat, enjoy, and pretend that Africa hot days are still far away.